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The ECRE Weekly Bulletin provides information about the latest European developments in the areas of asylum and refugee protection.ECRE is a pan-European alliance of 90 NGOs protecting and advancing the rights of refugees, asylum seekers and displaced persons.If you would like to know more about ECRE’s advocacy work, policy positions, press releases and projects, please visit our website at www.ecre.org, find us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter.

     
24 March 2017
  
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EUROPEAN DEVELOPMENTS
NATIONAL DEVELOPMENTS
COURT OF JUSTICE OF THE EUROPEAN UNION
REPORTS & NGO ACTION
BEYOND EUROPE
  

EDITORIAL

Weekly Editorial: Extremism – the far right wolf or the mainstream pet?

Brexit, Trump… Wilders, Le Pen, Petry? No, not necessarily. But the narrative of unstoppable extremism conquering all in its path resonates well in the media, as illustrated by the coverage across Europe of Geert Wilders in the recent Dutch election – grotesquely disproportionate to the substance of his messages, as well as his voter base.

Because we have learned from Europe’s history and because of the violence it incites, we must always resist extremism and never be complacent, but let us also keep a sense of perspective and understand the complex reasons why some people – a minority in most countries – find extremists appealing. And let’s not sanitize these parties and their leaders by calling them “populists”, especially when most of them are not actually that popular. (Despite everything that has happened in Europe in the last few years, Wilders’ Partij voor de Vrijheid (PVV) received 13.1% of the vote.)

As well as disproportionate media attention, these parties have a disproportionate influence on mainstream parties – and this is where the real danger lies.

The demonization of migrants, asylum seekers and refugees is pushing political discourse radically to the right and mainstream politicians towards ever more extreme and irrational positions. When the discourse of the extremists is absorbed and normalized, then public opinion changes.

But these are ultimately self-defeating strategies for the mainstream parties of the right and left, as they end up competing on the battleground of the extremists, rather than focusing on other issues of concern to the public. Fear of the other and a crisis modus operandi are the conditions in which extremists thrive.

Where extremist parties are doing well, there are many factors unrelated to migration (as was the case in the Brexit vote). Europe faces a deep crisis of political legitimacy whereby people no long trust their political leaders; people feel insecure due to the ongoing impact of the economic crisis; and party political systems are so fragmented that a party can win an election with 20% or even 15% of the vote. But these factors date back years or even decades and are not the fault of refugees.

Mainstream parties claim they have no choice but to adopt the policies of the extremists because that’s what the public wants. But these parties aren’t that popular if +80 % of the population is not voting for them – again, despite the political crisis on migration and the media coverage of it. The strategies of responding to extremists risk empowering them more: going into government with them or absorbing their policies should be out of the question. In parts of Europe, we see the alarming results for everyone, and for the EU itself, of previously mainstream parties of government taking on board extremist views.

Above all, let’s not scapegoat migrants and refugees: it is not their presence that has created these parties, it is our political weaknesses. Let that be reflected in our response.
 
 

EUROPEAN DEVELOPMENTS

EU-Libya: Another step towards “increased harm and suffering”?

At a Ministerial Conference in Rome between the Ministers of the Interior of Algeria, Austria, France, Germany, Italy, Libya, Malta, Slovenia, Switzerland and Tunisia and European Commissioner of Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship, Dimitris Avramopoulos  a closer cooperation in migration management in the Central Mediterranean, and especially with Libya were discussed.

The conference was concluded with a Declaration of Intent, agreed to intensify coordination, cooperation and exchange of expertise in the Central Mediterranean in line with the objectives of the Declaration of Malta of February 3. To this end, a contact group composed of the Ministers as well as the High Representative/Vice President of the Commission, Federica Mogherini and the Commissioner of Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship was established.

Media reports that during the talks, Libya’s Prime Minister asked for 800 million euros worth of equipment, including radars, boats, helicopters, and all-terrain vehicles, boards and helicopters. In its February 6 Council Conclusions the EU had already announced the implementation of a cooperation package worth Euro 120 million which aims to support civil society, governance, health, youth and education, migration, security and mediation in Libya.

Civil society organisations including Amnesty International, Doctors of the World and Aditus have previously warned that human rights abuses and smuggling will not be reduced by transferring responsibility for migration management to Libya. Rather the degrading conditions faced by refugees  in the country, will continue to “significantly increase harm and suffering.”
 
For further information:
 

NATIONAL DEVELOPMENTS

Austria transfers vulnerable family to Bulgaria against UN Human Rights Committee request

A Syrian-Kurdish family of seven including five minor children and a mother suffering from PTSD were recently transferred to Bulgaria by Austrian authorities under the Dublin regulation. The transfer happened despite repeated requests from the UN Human Rights Committee (CCPR) to abstain from transferring the family.

Referring to protection gaps in Bulgaria the CCPR only recently concluded in a similar case that deporting a Syrian family to Bulgaria would lead to a violation of Article 7 of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).In an earlier extradition case, Austria has already once been criticized by CCPR for breaching its obligations under the ICCPR and its Optional Protocol by not respecting the Committee's requests for interim measures.

Earlier requests from CCPR to abstain from deportation were repeated in a written statement after the Austrian Federal Administrative Court rejected the applicants' appeal against the decision to be sent to Bulgaria under the Dublin Regulation. However, with no result.

Susanna Paulweber from the organization Diakonie Refugee Service, who has provided legal support for the family told ECRE: “Austrian authorities apparently do not consider the views of the CCPR legally binding. Although that position can certainly be challenged based on earlier cases before the CCPR and statements of the European Court of Human Rights, the essence of this particular case is the fact that an extremely vulnerable family is being transferred to a country defined by huge protection gaps and a country in which they have already suffered severely,” .

Before their arrival to Austria the family has already experienced the hardship of detention in Bulgaria under conditions leaving the mother in depression and the children suffering from malnutrition on a diet reduced to water and bread.

The 2016 update on Bulgaria from ECRE’s AIDA Database massive protection gaps and systematic use of detention.   
  


UK maintains low level of financial support for asylum seekers living in poverty

On 16 March the UK Home Office issued a new Guidance concluding that the cash allowance for asylum seekers remains at the level of 36.95£, which constitutes a mere 5£ a day. This was decided despite evidence offered by civil society that asylum destitution is on the rise. The UK’s decision comes only a few weeks after the French Council of State ruled that a daily provision of 6.80€ plus a daily living allowance of 4.20€ does not suffice for asylum seekers without access to reception facilities.
 
In the UK the level of financial support for asylum seekers is reviewed yearly, but in fact payments have remained relatively stable over the past 6 years with only a 33 pence increase. A number of organisations such as the British Red Cross and the Refugee Council have highlighted that many asylum seekers live in poverty and destitution often reliant on charities for basic necessities including the ability to feed and clothe their children. Given that asylum seekers have no right to work in the UK and are not allowed to claim benefits, including job seekers’ allowance, they have little alternatives but to rely on this money for survival.
 
In France the Council of State found a daily allowance of 11€ per day “manifestly insufficient” to ensure an adequate standard of living in accordance with the recast Reception Conditions Directive. The court specified that the standard set out in the Directive requires the state, where accommodation cannot be provided to an asylum seeker, to provide an allowance sufficiently high l to obtain housing in the private rental market. This has also been affirmed by the Court of Justice of the European Union in the Saciri ruling. The Prime Minister was subsequently ordered to set a higher amount.
 
Also critical of the status quo was Nazek Ramadan, director of Migrant Voice, who said that "Refusing to allow people to work and contribute, while keeping them below subsistence levels, is the kind of Catch-22 that reflects our broken migration policy at its worst”.
 
For further information:
 
 

COURT OF JUSTICE OF THE EUROPEAN UNION

CJEU: in the absence of a clear definition of ‘risk of absconding’, detentions on this ground are unlawful

On 15 March 2017, the CJEU delivered its judgment in case C-528/15 Al Chodor, which related to detention under the Dublin III Regulation. The Court decided that Member States are required to establish objective criteria of a “risk of absconding” in a binding provision of general application (for example, in a regulation or legislation) and that, in the lack of such a provision, the detention of asylum seekers on this ground should be considered unlawful.

The Supreme Administrative Court of the Czech Republic requested a preliminary ruling from the CJEU on a case concerning three Iraqi nationals of Kurdish origin who fled persecution from the Islamic State. They crossed from Turkey to Greece and intended to continue their way to Germany. In Hungary, they were fingerprinted and sent to a refugee camp for two days before continuing their journey. In the Czech Republic, they were stopped by the police and detained pending their transfer to Hungary, following the procedure under the Dublin III Regulation. Under this Regulation, Member States can detain asylum seekers in order to ensure a transfer to a responsible Member State when there is a significant risk that the applicant will abscond. However, not all MS define in law the criteria to establish a “risk of absconding”.

The CJEU found that detention under Dublin III in the absence of objective criteria to determine a “risk of absconding” is unlawful. The Court noted that any measure on deprivation of liberty must be accessible, precise and foreseeable, as required by Article 6 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights interpreted in light of the case-law of the European Court of Human Rights.

There are substantial differences in the way Member States use the “significant risk of absconding” criterion to detain asylum seekers. In a 2015 Legal Briefing, ECRE raised its concerns over the broad implementation of this criterion throughout EU, which has direct impact on asylum seekers rights. Following the judgment, the UK Home Office issued a regulation laying down the criteria to be considered when identifying a significant risk of absconding.

For further information:  
 

REPORTS & NGO ACTION

The Dublin system and its dysfunctions: the human faces

Last week, AIDA published statistics on the application of the Dublin Regulation in 2016 revealing persisting dysfunctions in the Dublin system. But as illustrated in the newly released Migrant Voice report Roads to Nowhere the system not only proves dysfunctional by its numbers, it also tremendously affects people’s personal life.

The charity Migrant Voice has collected testimony from several refugees who are fighting removal from the UK to other European countries under the Dublin system. In the report the charity has laid bare the harrowing experiences of Syrian and other refugees crossing Europe, in a bid to abolish the Dublin Regulation and replace it with a more humane system. The testimonies in the report identify serious mistreatment in multiple EU member states, as well as inflexibility at the UK Home Office, who have often left people waiting on a decision for years.

Migrant Voice is calling for the EU to replace the Dublin Regulation with a Europe-wide single asylum application with a minimum standard of reception and integration. Moreover, it recommends an immediate suspension of all Dublin transfers to states where significant numbers of contemporary and credible reports of human rights abuses exist.

Several countries including Germany, Austria and Belgium have recently announced their intention to restart transfers to Greece, despite severe concerns on the human rights conditions facing asylum seekers. The European Commission in its recommendation of December 8, 2016 said that Dublin returns to Greece could start on the condition EU states relocate their promised share of asylum seekers from the country.

Migrant Voice also calls on the UK Government to change asylum rules to take individual circumstances into account (including refugees’ social and extended family connections to the UK), and in the event of the Dublin Regulation remaining unreformed, to withdraw from the framework in any Brexit deal.

For further information:
 

BEYOND EUROPE

Airstrike kills 42 off the Coast of Yemen

 On March 17 an airstrike on a vessel carrying 140 passengers off the coast of Yemen killed at least 42 people. The majority of the passengers were Somalis and some of the victims carried official UNHCR protection documents. The attack illustrates an increasing risk for arrivals in Yemen - a traditional transit hub for mixed-migration.

In early February 2017 UNHCR launched an awareness campaign focusing on the dangers of crossing the Red Sea to Yemen in which they stated that they were “alarmed that so many people are heading to a country where the conflict is worsening, displacement is growing, and arrivals face a very uncertain future”. Concerns regarding human trafficking abuses were also raised by UNHCR.

Further, civilians in Yemen are being targeted indiscriminately, including in schools and hospitals, and a 2016 UN High Commissioner for Human Rights report made a series of serious allegations of violations of international humanitarian law by all parties. At the same time the humanitarian situation is degrading quickly; according to World Food Programme 72% of the population is in need of emergency aid and 17 million people are living with food insecurity.

In January 2017, Yemen was hosting approximately 2 million internally displaced persons and 280,000 refugees, 91% of whom are from Somalia. In 2016, as many as 117,000 refugees and migrants arrived in Yemen.  Yemen is also a “refugee-producing country”, with 182,000 individuals having fled to neighboring countries last year.

Despite the ongoing conflict and humanitarian crisis in Yemen, the awareness on the situation in the country remains relatively low among mixed migrants. It is reported that the boat attacked was approaching the coast of Yemen on its way to Sudan from where its passengers hoped to reach North Africa and eventually Europe. 
 
 

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